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Human Rights at Risk

Human Rights at Risk

Human rights and New Zealand's reputation as a fair and inclusive society, without a culture of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice, is under threat from the tone of debate that is now coming from some opponents of the Civil Union Bill, the New Zealand AIDS Foundation says.

Foundation executive director Rachael Le Mesurier says she is deeply concerned about the move of the Civil Union debate away from the principles of human rights and legal equality - whether gay and defacto heterosexual couples should have the right to have discrimination removed from the law and be able to legally register their relationships - into a debate about homosexual behaviour.

"The opponents of this Bill, particularly some right-wing fundamentalist churches, seem to have once again fixated on the morality of homosexuality. Their prejudices and discomfort around gay sex are once again capturing what should be a debate about human rights, justice and inclusivity."

Ms Le Mesurier says this approach reveals a very real attempt by some lobby groups to reverse the progress that has been made over the last 18 years towards equal legal rights for gays and lesbians in New Zealand.

"Since the passing of the Human Rights Act 1993, gays and lesbians have felt that they were welcome equals in New Zealand society. Over the last few days, however, that feeling of inclusion has been replaced by increased anxiety and fear that New Zealand could again, become an unsafe place to come out. We have very serious concerns at the impact this is having on the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, takataapui and fa'afafine people, and their families, in our communities. Many of whom are also practising Christians."

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The Human Rights Act (which, among other things, prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation) Ms Le Mesurier says, was debated reasonably and within a human rights framework. It was clearly seen by most as not being primarily about sex or morality, but about the need for people who are members of a minority group to be treated equitably at law on such issues as the provision ofemployment, accommodation and the provision of goods and services. It was recognised that provision of these protections and dignities did not reduce the protection and dignity of anyone else.

"Unfortunately, although the Civil Unions Bill is equally about these issues, as they apply to same sex and defacto heterosexual couples, the debate is now being reduced by some to an emotional level not seen since the days of Homosexual Law Reform in the mid 1980s.As the editorial in Tuesday's Christchurch Press points out, we are seeing churches move into party political debate by urging their congregation; to vote against candidates who support the Bill.

The New Zealand AIDS Foundation is making a strong statement now on this issue as a result of the increasing attacks on the Civil Union Bill witnessed in the last few days by a vocal minority of individuals, primarily associated with fundamentalist churches, Ms Le Mesurier says.

"The Ottawa Charter tells us that if you promote a healthier society, where all people are supported to avoid poor health outcomes such as mental illness and vulnerability to self-harm behaviours (including the risk of HIV/AIDS), you develop a civil society based on inclusion, equity and justice for all.

"It is extraordinary that opponents of this Bill should focus on issues of sex and morality and make wild claims about homosexual behaviour being responsible for 'stench, disease and pollution' as excuses for their stance. If they were genuinely concerned for the health of society, they would support Civil Unions for same sex couples. Currently, the lack of legal recognition and community support for gay and lesbian relationships works against health, stability and fidelity within those relationships."

ENDS

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